The Plan for LMDh and LMH Prototypes to Compete on Equal Footing Globally Is Great News for Everyone Involved
By John Oreovicz, IMSA Wire Service
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — It‘s fair to say that the recent confirmation of agreement between IMSA and worldwide sanctioning authorities over technical specifications for a joint top class is the biggest news in decades for fans of endurance sports car racing.
In development for nearly two years, the plan will allow IMSA‘s new-for-2023 LMDh prototypes to compete on equal terms against FIA and ACO-sanctioned LMH “Hypercars” for overall victories in World Endurance Championship events, including the 24 Hours of Le Mans .
The last time a U.S.-based program scored the outright win at Le Mans came in 2010, when Audi Sport North America completed a run of four wins in five years in the classic enduro.
Conversely, Hypercars will be eligible to go into battle with the LMDh field at every round of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, starting with the 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway. It‘s a win-win situation, especially for fans.
“Now, even further than they do today, our fans will get to see the best manufacturers and drivers and teams all competing head-to-head,” IMSA President John Doonan said. “There‘s a lot of anticipation for a stacked field.”
An enormous amount of head scratching and number crunching went into trying to balance two radically different sports car platforms, one of which is new this year (Hypercar) and another still in the design and development phase.
Technical leaders from ACO, WEC, IMSA and key global auto manufacturers collaborated to create a formula that will equalize the effects of different powertrain solutions, including tires, braking capability, the acceleration profile for all-wheel drive cars versus rear-wheel drive and aerodynamics.
The so-called convergence of worldwide sports car racing has been a long time coming, and it‘s still a work in process. But all signs point to success.
“Without sounding too clichéd, I really believe this type of announcement is something folks across so many different audiences in the sports car community have wanted for some time,” Doonan proclaimed.
“Across every media platform, positive feedback and comments have come in since the announcement from every facet of our sport. Across the sport, people are thrilled that this is now official, and we have a lot to look forward to. We have a lot to execute between now and January 2023 at the 61st Rolex 24, but I think there is a big spotlight on our future.”
The technical agreement creates the tantalizing prospect of WEC-compliant Hypercar enhancing the already-intense competition in the top prototype class of the WeatherTech Championship. That alone makes IMSA a winner.
But IMSA delivers star power of its own that will add value to the WEC show. Ask any French fan who has heard Corvettes thundering down the Mulsanne Straight at the Circuit de la Sarthe…
The cost-effective nature of IMSA‘s LMDh formula has enticed Porsche, Audi and BMW back into prototype competition. Acura will continue its successful prototype program by developing its own LMDh, and other manufacturers are expected to follow suit. A key selling point for those returning manufacturers was the removal of barriers preventing IMSA‘s top prototypes from competing for the overall victory at Le Mans and other WEC events.
“In the end, they know now that they can use the same vehicle and its platform to compete in IMSA and WEC/ACO competition,” Doonan said. “It‘s mutually positive across both sides of the ocean.”
The benefits trickle down. With growth at the manufacturer level comes a greater demand for quality teams. Many manufacturers contract independent racing teams to run their “factory” racing programs.
Porsche, for example, has already announced that Team Penske will spearhead its LMDh efforts in IMSA and WEC, and that additional customer cars will be made available. BMW‘s LMDh program has been linked to current IMSA teams. And with interest building worldwide in sports car racing‘s new era of convergence, opportunities exist not only to attract new sponsors, but to enhance or expand existing partnerships.
The manufacturer-supported racing programs are going to need quality drivers. It must surely be a great time to be a young sports car driver, with so many potential factory rides on the horizon.
“The ultimate goal in sports car racing for a guy in my position is to be working directly with and for a major manufacturer,” said 25-year-old Trent Hindman, the 2019 WeatherTech Championship GT Daytona (GTD) class co-champion who is gaining valuable prototype training this year in the IMSA Prototype Challenge development series that runs Le Mans Prototype 3 (LMP3) cars, on top of his continuing presence in the WeatherTech Championship‘s GTD class. “Of course, you want to be in position to drive an LMDh car and contend for overall wins.”
Doonan was in a unique position as the technical convergence agreement evolved. He started the process as Director of Motorsports for Mazda and ended it as IMSA President, having been appointed to the position in late 2019.
He‘s extraordinarily proud of the hard work that so many people put in to make the prospect of a common top formula a reality for worldwide sports car racing.
“From a personal standpoint, I‘m just honored and thrilled to have been in the room and part of it,” Doonan said. “Work dates to the 1980s to make something like this happen in the ‘90s, and to now be part of it is one of those boyhood dream experiences.
“Part of the foundation of IMSA is, ‘What‘s good for the sport?‘” he added. “That‘s the most satisfying part of seeing it come together. Everybody put a lot of work in toward a common goal.”